Senior Prisoner on California's Death Row Is Executed at Age 76

Associated Press
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

SAN QUENTIN, Calif., Jan. 17 -- California's oldest condemned inmate died by injection early Tuesday.

With the help of four prison guards, Clarence Ray Allen shuffled from his wheelchair to a gurney inside San Quentin's death chamber early Tuesday, a day after his 76th birthday. Although legally blind, Allen raised his head to search among witnesses for relatives he had invited.

" Hoka hey , it's a good day to die," Allen said in a nod to his Choctaw Indian heritage. "Thank you very much, I love you all. Goodbye."

Having suffered a heart attack in September, Allen had asked prison authorities to let him die if he went into cardiac arrest before his execution, a request prison officials said they would not honor.

"We would resuscitate him," said prison spokesman Vernell Crittendon, then execute him.

But the barrel-chested prisoner's heart was strong to the end: Doctors had to administer a second shot of potassium chloride to stop it.

"It's not unusual. This guy's heart had been going for 76 years," said Warden Steven Ornoski.

Allen, condemned for ordering from behind bars a hit that left three people dead, was the second-oldest inmate executed in the United States since capital punishment resumed nearly 30 years ago. Mississippi executed a 77-year-old last month.

Allen's attorneys had pleaded with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Supreme Court to spare his life, saying that executing a man as old and feeble as he amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and that the 23 years he spent on death row were unconstitutionally cruel, too.

Allen died wearing a beaded headband, a medicine bag around his neck and an eagle feather on his chest. Two Indian spiritual advisers visited with him in the hours before the execution. His last meal included a buffalo steak and Indian fry bread.

The family of one of Allen's victims, Josephine Rocha, said in a statement that Allen "abused the justice system with endless appeals until he lived longer in prison than the short 17 years of Josephine's life."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company